6 Questions with Deesha Philyaw

News October 4, 2021

Get to know the author Deesha Philyaw, who will teach an upcoming Master Class on writing truthfully about sex and intimacy, as she discusses the books and writers that excite her.

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short-story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award, Story Prize, and Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. She is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and will be the 2022-2023 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.


Which author’s editing process would you have loved to see?

I teach a workshop that includes Toni Morrison's perspectives on revision and so read a lot about her approach to designing the workshop. I would love to have seen her actual edits, first drafts, and subsequent drafts. What would a Toni Morrison shitty first draft look like? I can't even imagine.

What is your favorite punctuation mark?

The em dash, no question. It can convey a pause, a sigh, or a mood—sometimes all at once.

Who are some writers whose words you strive never to miss, whether they be in book, article, or social media–post form?

Kiese Laymon the Great

Do you have any writing rituals when working on a piece?

I don't. August Wilson used to walk circles around his desk a certain number of times before sitting down to work. Something like that seems like it would be grounding, but I never think to do it.

What is a book that changed your view of its subject?

Two books, actually. Robert Jones Jr.'s The Prophets and Jabari Asim's Yonder both expanded my view and understanding of who our enslaved ancestors were. They were, as we know, continually robbed of their sexual agency and freedom, violated, and brutalized—and they loved each other, romantically, deeply, sexually, playfully. They resisted in so many everyday ways, small and large.

What book coming out in the next year are you most excited about?

Half-Blown Rose by Leesa Cross-Smith




Deesha Philyaw’s book recommendations

  • Erato: Flash Fiction edited by Alex Freeman, Guinevere Chase and TC Mill
  • The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction edited by Zoe Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore
  • The Ones Who Don't Say I Love You by Maurice Ruffin
  • Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
  • Nonwhite and Woman: 131 Micro Essays on Being in the World edited by Darien Hsu Gee and Carla Crujido


  • To purchase these books and support Deesha's local independent bookstore White Whale Bookstore, click here.

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